Happy In Bag

Monday, October 31, 2005

Honest Injun, It Was Racist

I was a four-eyed bookworm living in a Chicago suburb during the Nixon administration. In addition to Halloween, my favorite autumn rituals were reading The Chicago Tribune’s feature Injun Summer and making our family’s annual trek to Lawrence, KS, for Thanksgiving.

In John T. McCutcheon’s Injun Summer, a crusty old-timer regales his grandson about the magic of the season. He asserts that “injun sperrits” return to their ancient land, where they can be seen “hoppin’ round” with their “pipes a’goin.’” . Red leaves were evidence that “war paint rubbed off’n an injun ghost.”

I was enamored of this folksy text, and the implication that the very ground where our tract home stood might once have been the scene of a great “redskin” nation practically blew the Cubs cap off my impressionable head.

Each November, dozens of family and friends would reunite at the old Victorian home on Lawrence’s Ohio Street. My grandmother would hire about six young women from Haskell Indian College to help her prepare and serve the feast. A demanding matriarch, my grandmother never hesitated to instruct me how to act and appear. She was even tougher on the young Native Americans. If a casserole was served late, or if a child’s spilled glass wasn’t immediately replaced, a world of pain would ensue.

Even as child, I was aware of the cruel irony of being served by these beautiful women for whom the holiday surely represented staggering tragedy. It’s clear today that both The Tribune’s feature and my family’s behavior were demeaning, patronizing and at best, only unintentionally racist. That a major newspaper would run such a piece for over fifty years shows just how differently mainstream society perceived (or failed to perceive) the issue.

These memories return as I rake leaves thirty years later. And so help me, I still squint to see teepees on the horizon, and if I listen closely, I can sometimes hear the ancient drums of the ghosts haunting this land.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Are You With Me?

You distract him while I get behind the wheel...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Does Zin Serve Frostys?

Ignore the telltale yellow cups and take a gander at that vista. It’s funny how putting an enormous glass window between yourself and a gritty reality can suddenly make it look a lot nicer.

This photo was taken from inside the new Wendy’s at 12th and Genessee. Pretty slick, huh?

Dreamers and land speculators continue to hope that the West Bottoms will soon enjoy a renaissance. I don’t think they had Wendy’s in mind, but I’ll take this view over the scene from Zin's big picture windows at 19th and Main. Besides, I don’t think Zin offers a dollar menu.

Incidentally, excepting cigarettes and lottery tickets, the adjacent convenience store does not have sin for sale. (See my October 20 entry.) So save yourself a trip- you still need to purchase your alcohol, rolling papers, porn and crack pipes at the older establishment a block to the east.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Patch Me In

I'm pleased to announce that I've teamed up with John over at
  • Patchchord
  • , a fine music-oriented resource about the regional music scene. You can take a look at my first contribution for him, a slapdown of Chicago-based jazz pianist Jo Ann Daugherty. I was nonplussed by her performance at the Blue Room Saturday night. I value passion over technical prowess. I hope the young woman takes my criticism to heart.

    Tuesday, October 25, 2005

    How Do I Look?

    Here I am with my new murse. How do I look? When I saw this Louis Vuitton ad in Sunday's New York Times, I realized that the fashion industry had sprung into action after hearing about my handbag search last week. If a rube like me began using a purse, the commercial viability of the product would evaporate. So they ran this ad, knowing that it would scare me off the idea. Perhaps, as regular reader Panos suggested, I'll just go with cargo pants.

    Monday, October 24, 2005

    Close Enough For Jazz?

    While enjoying live jazz at The Blue Room a couple months ago, I noticed that a display on the south wall had partially collapsed. An album sleeve had fallen from its spot inside a glass case. Additional items were askew, or lay in the bottom of the exhibit.

    Last Saturday night, I noticed that the same presentation remained in disarray. I took this photo, which shows that the vintage album should be secured over the blank white space. Plastic frames, screws and bits of wood lay at the case’s bottom, where the tilted album rests, obscuring the bottom portion of the display.

    I suppose it’s possible that the museum’s staff repeatedly renovates this exhibit and that the room’s sonic vibrations or disruptive patrons continue to damage it. The more likely cause, I think, is neglect. The staff either doesn’t know or care about the problem.

    Don’t forget that the Blue Room is an extension of the American Jazz Museum. A large part of the venue’s unique charm is that the museum’s collection is integrated into the club. Displays wrap around the room. Interesting artifacts are even incorporated into its cocktail tables.

    Granted, the museum and jazz venue don’t revolve around this single offering, which focuses on the contributions of Kansas City pianist Mary Lou Williams. But it looks bad, and the fact that it continues to be unattended for at least eight weeks is not a good sign. This minor yet annoying negligence is disrespectful to Mary Lou Williams, patrons of the museum, and to the taxpayers who I understand support this institution.

    Friday, October 21, 2005


    I get panicky without pen, paper, wallet, keys, cell phone, camera, reading material, and other essential paraphernalia at my side. Yet lugging a briefcase or backpack around, as I do now, is overkill. And while I’m already a sartorial disaster, so-called fanny packs are out of the question. What I really need, and intend to acquire directly, is a man purse. My hunt commences this weekend. Any tips, guys? Ladies?

    Thursday, October 20, 2005

    Hitting Bottom

    A new gas station and fast food outlet may not seem worthy of comment, but when they’re dropped into the dreary West Bottoms, it’s a significant development.

    I celebrate the addition of this clean and shiny business at the intersection of Genessee and 12th. Still, something in me laments its impact on the competition next door, a rundown gas and convenience store catering to everything that’s seedy about the historic Kansas City neighborhood. (Its sign is barely visible in the far left background.)

    When I was new to the neighborhood, the market’s staff repeatedly attempted to shortchange me. But I learned to slap back, in spite of the gun on display behind the counter. There’s more to the store than gas. Commerce begins in front of the store, with tables of cheap bling and knock-off purses. Inside, there are crack pipes (sold in the form of miniature flower vases), crack pipe cleaners (sold in the form of dish scrubbers), porn, lottery tickets and beer.

    Come to think of it, perhaps the old joint may survive after all.

    Wednesday, October 19, 2005

    It's a Small World, Man

    After 25 years of agreeable solace, I returned to Disneyland. One of the very few experiences I eagerly anticipated was the chance to subject my brood to "It’s A Small World." The mind-numbing ride has haunted me, along with untold thousands of traumatized citizens, for years. So imagine my surprise when my knowing smirk quickly transformed into a delighted smile. Does Disney pump nitrous oxide into the structure's air? Have I aged so much that I’m a happy consumer of pablum? Or perhaps, contrary to my repressed memories, it's actually a really groovy experience.

    Tuesday, October 18, 2005

    Fly Over This

    Touching down at KCI is often accompanied by an emotional letdown. Sure, life in Kansas City is good, but it’s inevitably less dynamic than the place I just visited.

    But returning from Southern California last night felt different. After navigating the immense highway system in Los Angeles hours earlier, I-29's six lanes seemed laughably puny. And after practically living in a rental car the past five days, the trek home passed in mere moments.

    While out west, I was based in Orange County. All strip malls and subdivisions, it’s really nothing more than a mature Johnson County with six times the population. Of course, Kansas City lacks California’s amenities, but that’s all just a few hours away on Southwest Airlines.

    As I hurtled through Platte Woods, Kansas City suddenly seemed easy. I could own this town.

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Wornall Road

    You can have Ward Parkway. Take Swope Parkway, too. Berry Road and Santa Fe Drive? No thanks. I prefer the twenty-block commercial strip of Wornall Road between Meyer Boulevard and 85th Street.

    Zoned like a Houston, Texas, nightmare, this street reflects the "old, weird America" that’s been knocked down and paved over almost everywhere else in Kansas City. Thrift shops bump into piano bars. Bakeries adjoin expensive salons. An Afrocentric shop resides near a grain market. Restaurant flavors include Mediterranean Mexican, German, Greek, Chinese, Indian, pizza and sports. And that’s just the mom-and-pop operators.

    It’s such a cacophony that I can’t decide whether to focus on the strip’s exciting commercial potential or on its blight. Instead, I marvel at the new businesses and wax nostalgic over what used to be, such as City Lights, a live jazz venue now housing Tanner’s, and a sleazy bar that featured go-go dancers somewhere on the east side of the schizophrenic street.

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    First Watch

    It’s restaurants like First Watch that make me think I should jump apron-first into the eatery business.

    Its Westport, Fairway and Prairie Village locations are almost always full during breakfast hours. And on Sunday, there’s often a waiting list. Based in California, First Watch has just over fifty locations; nine are in the Kansas City area.

    Yet the food is utterly unremarkable. And it’s expensive. It’s not difficult to spend $20.00, including a generous tip, on breakfast for two. And that tip reflects First Watch’s strength. Their attentive wait staff is impressive.

    Beyond that, though, the food is pedestrian, and the coffee is just plain bad. So, what’s the deal? Meetings. For many Kansas Citians, First Watch is the default place to meet for breakfast. And frankly, many First Watch patrons probably want to avoid diners like Denny’s or the Waffle House, for both the smoke and for the patrons that aren’t wearing business suits.

    If that’s all it takes to be successful, I may open a joint call The Meeting Place. I’m seeing with potential investors tomorrow morning. Where? Well, uh, at First Watch in Westport.

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Inside Pitch

    Two decades ago, The Violent Femmes were subversives, bent on making an interesting racket as they challenged the establishment. Today, they’re competent pros, delivering familiar, rehashed product to an audience that wants their "alternative" media delivered in a safe, predictable packages.

    The same is true for the Pitch. Kansas City’s weekly alternative newspaper celebrated its 25th anniversary Friday night at the Madrid Theater. The Violent Femmes were an ideal choice for the party’s hired entertainment.

    I liberally partook of the Pitch’s free booze and food. I had a swell time.

    I spent part of the evening chatting with the founder and original owner of the Pitch. Only a handful of people in the room knew who he was. More tellingly, even fewer cared.

    I like most of the current Pitch staffers I’ve met, and I enjoyed their company Friday night. But it’s just another gig for these folks- they feel little emotional bond with the paper, which is now owned by a Phoenix corporation. Most are gunning for something they perceive as better, like a job at an ad agency or a position at the Village Voice.

    It’s inevitable, I suppose. As the Violent Femmes sang, "Add it up." The Pitch is fat with advertising. Who am I to expect anything more?

    Friday, October 07, 2005


    Everybody knows it’s not just the monkey bars that break bones and bruise egos on school playgrounds. Slides alone can break a heart a hundred different ways.

    Perhaps it’s the newly crisp fall air that caused me to recall the giant tire in a remote corner of the playground at my elementary school north of the river in Kansas City. Even half-buried, it was big enough to completely conceal two kids in each side of its massive hollow.

    In sixth grade, the "bad" kids would squeeze into this crevice to sneak a quick smoke or, much more daringly, make out. It wasn’t until the following year in junior high that I would understand the appeal of such illicit activity.

    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    Just Jazz

    Just Jazz might have been the worst radio program I’ve heard. And I loved it.

    For 23 years, the KCUR offering broadcast moldy swing music by Vic Damone, Stan Kenton and Marilyn Maye. For months, it’s been a sad echo of its former self, as its hosts, Ginny Coleman and Ruth Rhoden, have been waylaid by health concerns. The Kansas City Star reported today that the next Just Jazz show will be the last.

    Ginny and Ruth’s show was the region’s most important forum for the jazz community. Local musicians including Mike Ning, Gary Sivils, and their all-time favorite, Tommy Ruskin, received attention every week. Most shows also featured a guest or two, such as a local jazzman pushing his new release, or the Folly Theater’s Doug Tatum discussing a new jazz concert series.

    Because I’m under the age of 60, I didn’t really listen to Just Jazz for the music. Ginny and Ruth’s musical tastes solidifed in the early 1950s, and their palates never evolved. The attraction for me was the banter between Ginny and Ruth. Complete opposites, they openly detested each other.

    Hilarity ensued after each show’s traditional opening big band number. The sniping commenced immediately. Ruth was flighty and absurdly disorganized. Just reading the credits of a song properly was a challenge. Ginny, meticulous by nature, didn’t hesitate to correct Ruth’s errors. As Ruth’s clarity declined, Ginny became downright cruel. She would chide Ruth’s inability to announce a song, or would mock Ruth’s poor memory. Awkward and painful, it made for terrific entertainment.

    My favorite Just Jazz moments occurred when the hosts would unwittingly play a number that strayed from their clearly defined tastes. In the last year, for instance, they aired a piece from a new Wayne Shorter CD. It lasted about three minutes, before Shorter’s brilliant explorations were unceremoniously silenced by an outraged Ginny, who didn't hesitate to voice her displeasure.

    Jazz has become a decidedly unpopular music. So I won’t chide KCUR, Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, for no longer having a single program dedicated to the music. Still, I fondly recall KCUR’s nightly jazz programming in the early ‘80s, when experts like Chuck Haddix and Rodney Franks turned me on to Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.

    KCUR might consider offering streams of vintage Just Jazz shows online. I can’t bear the thought of never again hearing Ruth sigh ecstatically about a "swinging chart," or chortling as Ginny reminds Ruth that Louis Bellson played drums, not trombone. Each Just Jazz show ended with the pair attempting, and rarely succeeding, to simultaneously intone the program’s name.

    Just Jazz. Keep swinging, ladies.

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005


    Shouldn’t that read, Gambling Is For Dummies?

    Tuesday, October 04, 2005


    I don't feel so good today.

    Monday, October 03, 2005


    They’re gone. Our new family from New Orleans stepped on a bus to Houston. There’s no home waiting for them there, but they will be reunited with other members of their displaced families. We want what’s best for them- I hope this was it. We’re left with a multitude of messy emotions to sort through, along with this forgotten toy.